A (right) wing, but no prayer

Finding, then losing, his religion: McCain with the late
“agent of intolerance,” Rev. Jerry Falwell at Liberty University in 2007

How is it, exactly, that John McCain plans to win the presidency? He is desperately casting about, trying to reclaim his cool, 2000 persona of Bush-busting “maverick,” while equally desperately scooping up all of Dubya’s crappy policies to pass of as his own …

He is sucking up to Hillary Clinton’s die-hard women supporters while promising to strip each and every one of them of their reproductive rights if he becomes president…

He is grasping for lower income, “Reagan Democrats,” hoping they won’t figure out that when he calls himself a “free trader,” it means HE’S FOR FREE TRADE…

He hopes to keep a lock on the West by scooping Hispanic voters, and at the same time running from his own immigration/legalization plan like it’s on fire…

And now, he somehow plans to hold together the Bush coalition of 2000 and 2004 without evangelicals. Huh? Check this out from a source you NEVER see me quote: Newsmax

In another disturbing sign that Sen. John McCain has little interest in reaching out to his conservative base, including evangelical Christian voters, his campaign has declined an offer to meet with the Rev. Billy Graham.

For almost six decades, Graham has been America’s most influential preacher and evangelist, a man sought out by every president since Harry Truman.

Today, the 89-year-old Graham is in declining health and stays near his home in Montreat, N.C. His last public appearance, in May 2007, marked the dedication of his library. Three former American presidents — Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton — were on hand to honor Graham.

In recent weeks I have been involved with Brian Jacobs, a Fort Worth, Texas, minister and consultant to the Billy Graham Association, to broker a meeting between McCain and Graham. In May, we contacted the McCain campaign with an offer to arrange such a meeting, as we had done between candidate George W. Bush and Graham during the 2000 election.

The “I” in question is historian and former Bush I and Bush II adviser Doug Wead, author of the book, “All the President’s Children.” Read on…

While meetings with ministers have caused their fair share of controversy in this election cycle, we thought it was worth a try to bring McCain together with America’s most celebrated preacher.

McCain’s campaign responded to Jacobs with the following letter dated June 3, 2008:

Dear Mr. Jacobs,

Thank you for your kind letter offering to set up a personal meeting between Senator McCain and Dr. Billy Graham.

Senator McCain appreciates your invitation and the valuable opportunity it represents. [italics added by McCain campaign]

Unfortunately, I must pass along our regrets and do not foresee an opportunity to add this event to the calendar.

I know you will understand that with the tremendous demands on his time and the large volume of similar requests, events such as this are extremely difficult to schedule even though each one is important. However, we will keep your event in mind should an opportunity present itself in the future.

I know that the Senator would want me to thank you for your interest and to send his very best wishes.

Sincerely,

Amber Johnson
Director of Scheduling
John McCain 2008

Wead includes a link to a PDF of the letter. Click here for that.

Wead goes on to warn that McCain is risking giving up a key pillar of the GOP base:

The danger for McCain is in his campaign’s failure to grasp the size of the born again vote. Latest surveys show that fully 42 percent of all Americans claim to be “born again.”

But the risk is not just that the Republican nominee will lose evangelical voters but that he will lose its massive infrastructure: megachurches with their schools, television programs and massive mailing lists which traditionally play a crucial role for Republicans in voter registration and voter turnout. The cost to the party of replicating this role themselves would be incalculable.

As anyone who’s worked a campaign can tell you, it’s all about turnout. All … about … turnout.
And the megachurches have been the GOP’s turnout secret weapon since the 1980s, when they switched from Carter to Reagan.

After a bit of exegesis on his own relationships with the Bushes, Wead offers some instructive insights to the mainstream media — whose reporters are largely non-religious (or Catholic, which is kind of the same thing … I can say that, I used to be Catholic…) and who therefore really don’t “get’ religious people, which is why they tend to go ballistic over stories that actual religious people find unremarkable.

Though McCain actually is quite engaging with religious believers — I have been with him a couple of times at religious events and once interviewed him for a television show that aired on a religious network — his staff is notoriously hostile. McCain adviser, Charlie Black, and campaign manager, Rick Davis, have a long, troubled history with the evangelical wing of the party.

Maybe that’s why McCain and his press corps get along so well…

… The pair were said to be behind McCain’s decision to throw televangelist John Hagee “under the bus” after audio recordings suggested Hagee believed Adolf Hitler was an agent of God.

For those of you paying attention, that’s “uh-oh” number one …

Though Hagee’s views of “predestination” are mainstream among many Christian denominations and Hagee obviously never suggested support for Hitler or Nazis, McCain called Hagee “crazy.” Only weeks before he denounced Hagee, McCain had publicly trumpeted the pastor’s endorsement.

That would be “uh-oh” number two. Who knew that Hagee’s Hitler hunting schtick was mainstream evangelical Christianity at work? For that matter, who in the MSM knew that Rev. Wright sounds a hell of a lot like a lot of other Baptist preachers??? Can we have “uh-oh” number three, please?

Indeed, Hagee has been one of the greatest supporters of Israel and Jewish causes in the evangelical community.

McCain’s hasty decision to discard Hagee was seen by many evangelicals, even those who are not fans of Hagee, as a betrayal.

Whoop, there it is.

Although it was done in the context of Sen. Barack Obama’s Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy, it was a moment that seemed to pander to the media’s ignorance and hostility toward religion in general. Many evangelicals saw it as grossly unfair.

And, as Wead goes on to say, Ed Koch didn’t like it. He didn’t like it one bit. But wait, there’s more, and it has to do with a major, major swing state…

… Hagee and Graham are not the only evangelical leaders to be rebuffed by McCain. Press reports indicate McCain has turned away olive branch invitations from the influential Dr. James Dobson for the senator to visit him at his headquarters in Colorado Springs.

That would be James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, a massive Colorado mega-church, 7 million radio listeners and an even larger mailing list, and some of the last real national-level political clout in the religious right world (liberal Christianity is coming on strong, so it remains to be seen how strong the RR is today.) I found myself on the same side as FOTF this year in a fight against the spread of legalized gambling in Miami-Dade, and I can tell you, his people are dead serious about voting their faith. Reading on…

The theory behind the McCain campaign’s strategy to ignore evangelicals is that they have nowhere else to go, that Obama is too liberal, and they’ll vote against him come November.

But McCain’s team is missing the fact that the vacuum created by the GOP’s divorce from them is being filled by the Democrats.

Both Clinton and Obama have been quietly courting evangelicals, the former in private meetings last year and the later with open, religious language.

Aside from Carter’s winning outreach to born again voters in 1976, this is a new phenomenon among Democrat candidates. New polling shows younger evangelicals have different views about the poor, the environment and societal attitudes toward gays. Public relations expert and evangelical leader Mark DeMoss suggests that Obama could win fully 40 percent of the evangelical vote this November. By my calculations that figure is low.

McCain’s decision not to meet with Graham will likely provoke outrage. And the campaign will likely back down. Graham is no Hagee or Dobson. They will say it was all a mistake and blame it on staff or a “misunderstanding.” But in the process they have revealed their mind-set. Their decision to ignore the leaders of America’s 80 million born-again voters represents a stunning, high wire act for a Republican presidential candidate. …

Damn … okay, not appropriate given this post, but daaaaaamn…

Prediction: McCain will change his mind, as Wead said, and have the meeting. But deep skepticism will remain within the evangelical movement about him and his intentions. I can tell you, many hardcore Christians I know where praying for Mike Huckabee. McCain is going to have a hard time getting this part of the base energized this fall.

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